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The Embodied Soul: The Constitution of the Ethical Subject in Plato's Later Thought

English title The Embodied Soul: The Constitution of the Ethical Subject in Plato's Later Thought
Applicant Karfik Filip
Number 132180
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Département de Philosophie Faculté des Lettres Université de Fribourg
Institution of higher education University of Fribourg - FR
Main discipline Philosophy
Start/End 01.11.2010 - 31.10.2013
Approved amount 154'204.00
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Keywords (9)

Plato; Soul; Ethics; Late-period; Corporality; metaphysics; Philebus; Timaeus; body

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary
Plato scholarship in the second half of the 20th century was, by and large, dominated by a focus on the so-called early and middle period dialogues. This was particularly true in ethics and politics, where The Republic overshadowed all other writings, serving as a lodestar for students of Plato's moral philosophy. The Laws and the Philebus, the two great ethical dialogues of Plato's late period, were among the least well-known of his works, in large part due to their reputation as dull, difficult, poorly written, and generally evincing a decline in the quality of his thought.Happily, a renaissance of sorts has taken place in recent years and those dialogues that were considered to be Plato's greatest works by the philosophers of antiquity are once again at the center of scholarly interest, as attested by major international conferences on The Laws, the Timaeus/Critias and the Philebus, as well as numerous smaller gatherings. Far from being products of failing genius, the late dialogues exhibit an extremely sophisticated understanding of humanity and its place in the cosmos, simultaneously representing a development of and challenge to Plato's own earlier positions.Employing the resources of the late period dialogues, this project aims to provide a more comprehensive and nuanced picture of Plato's mature ethical thought. Of particular interest is the increased importance of the body in the later dialogues, both as a structuring principle of the human soul and as the locus of pleasure, which is, rather surprisingly, taken to play an indispensable role in human happiness in the Philebus. While much work has been done on Plato's doctrine of the soul, particularly as it is expounded in the opening sections of the Timaeus, the ramifications of these findings for other branches of philosophy have not been fully explored. The insights afforded by these studies promise to illuminate, if not resolve, key difficulties in Plato's dualistic conception of man: What is the nature of the relationship between the concrete human individual and his immortal soul, and what is its ethical significance? How are we to understand the myths of reincarnation and the afterlife? What is the relationship between pleasure, justice and intelligence in Plato's conception of human happiness? In the late dialogues we find traces of a richer conception of ethical life, one that challenges many commonly-held assumptions about Plato's philosophical trajectory; our goal is to piece these fragments together into a coherent account, in the conviction that it will result in a more complete and more compelling picture of Plato's ethical thought.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Name Institute


Pure Pleasure, Happiness and the Divine Life in Plato's Philebus
A. Havlicek et al. (ed.), Pure Pleasure, Happiness and the Divine Life in Plato's Philebus.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
IX International Symposium, Czech Plato Society Talk given at a conference 14.11.2013 Prague, Czech Republic Jorgenson Chad;
X Symposium, International Plato Society Talk given at a conference 15.07.2013 Pisa, Italy Jorgenson Chad; Karfik Filip;
Colloque Zetesis, 2013 Talk given at a conference 23.05.2013 Universités de Paris IV et X, France Jorgenson Chad;
Platon et Parménide (Séminaire de la Société des Études Platoniciennes) Talk given at a conference 29.03.2013 Besançon, France Jorgenson Chad;
Ecole doctorale romande en philosophie antique et médiévale Talk given at a conference 18.10.2012 Crêt-Bérard, Switzerland Karfik Filip; Jorgenson Chad;
Workshop on Ancient Philosophy Talk given at a conference 06.06.2012 Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic, Czech Republic Jorgenson Chad; Karfik Filip;
The Constitution of the Human Body in Plato's Timaeus Individual talk 23.02.2012 Eötvös University, Budapest, Hungary Jorgenson Chad; Karfik Filip;


Discussions of the role of the soul in Plato’s ethics tend to be restricted to those dialogues which treat of predominantly ethical or political themes, most notably The Republic. Coupled with the relative neglect of the so-called late-period dialogues, particularly in ethical discussions, this has led to much valuable material being overlooked which promises to provide a more complete picture of Plato’s ethical thought. Of particular importance is the Timaeus, which contains an extended analysis of the metaphysics of body and soul in general along with an exposition of the role played by physiology in structuring the soul. The Timaeus complicates our picture of the relationship between body and soul, for it suggests that a good deal of what constitutes the identity of the individual, beginning with the tripartition of the soul and extending to the determination of the character of the individual and his disposition towards virtue or vice, is not innate in the soul itself but rather arises from the body-soul complex considered as an integrated whole, in which each element must be analysed in its organic connection to the other. As far as ethics and politics are concerned, the subject is not an immortal soul whose possession of a body is merely a matter of external contingency. Instead corporality, the brute fact of possessing a body, is an essential component of the psychological and metaphysical analyses on which Plato’s ethics is based.This project therefore proposes to approach two main problems in Plato’s ethics, the form and content of ethical knowledge and the problem of engagement and withdrawal from the sensible world, through an investigation of the constitution of the ethical subject, considered as a complex entity arising from the conjunction of body and soul. By focusing on the reciprocal determination of body and soul in the human animal, it is expected that progress can be made in resolving tensions within Plato’s ethical doctrine as well as clarifying the epistemological status of his ethical claims, whether they take the form of myths or discourses. The project will be undertaken in cooperation with Profs. Alexandrine Schniewind at Lausanne and Luc Brisson at the CNRS in Paris, who have agreed to take on an advisory role. In the case of Prof. Brisson, this collaboration will be undertaken in part in the framework of the séminaire platonicien held several times annually in Paris and other universities in France. The end result of the project is to be a PhD study aiming to fill a lacuna in the literature, particularly the English-language literature, by incorporating the best research from Europe and North America on Plato’s theory of the soul and ethics into a comprehensive account of the constitution of the ethical subject. This project will, we believe, challenge some of the commonly held assumptions about Plato’s understanding of the relationship between body and soul and the significance of this relationship for his ethical theories, while taking seriously the metaphysical and mythical dimensions of his thought.